Guernica still on Basque minds 

Basque locals gathered Thursday to plant a Spanish oak in Sister Cities Park to honor the 70th anniversary of the firebombing of Guernica, Spain, their community’s spiritual capital.

Members of the Basque Cultural Center in South San Francisco, as well as city officials, rememebered the brutality inflicted by the bombing. Isabelle Bushman, vice president of the center, equated the bombing of Guernica to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Here at the Basque Cultural Center we’re trying to make a bigger remembrance of it," Bushman said.

On April 26, 1937, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, planes from the German air force bombed civilians in the town using experimental incendiary bombs that decimated the town and left innocent men, women and children dead. The attack was immortalized by Pablo Picasso’s famous mural for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris.

Phillippe Acheritogaray, a director with the center, said the significance of the bombing was that it was the first purposeful bombing of civilians, a practice that extended into World War II. The Germans were supporting Francisco Franco’s fascist group, which eventually overthrew the Spanish Republic.

Belmont resident Felix Bilbao, 89, was a 19-year-old in the Spanish Republican battalion at the time of the bombing and remembered the fires created by the German bombs. "There was fire, all over, and all night there was smoke," Bilbao said.

The body count from the bombing ranges from 300 into the thousands, much like the count from San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. To this day, Acheritogaray said, construction crews uncover corpses of animals and humans attributed to the date 70 years ago.

Jean Curutchet, 60, was born in San Francisco but moved to Esterencuby — French Basque country — when he was a baby. The date means "a lot of sad memories" for Basques across the world, he said.

"Every war has sad memories but when we bomb ladies and kids, it doubles the sadness," he said.

dsmith@examiner.com

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